BUCKSPORT, Maine — Voters in the four towns of Regional School Unit 25 voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to approve a $13.8 million school budget for the coming year.
The RSU includes the towns of Bucksport, Orland, Prospect and Verona Island.
The $13,862,123 budget represented a decrease of around 7 percent from the current school budget, according to Superintendent Jim Boothby. All of the individual cost centers on which the budget is based showed a decrease with the exception of the facilities and maintenance account, which increased by about 3 percent, or $48,195.
Boothby said the decrease reflected the challenging economic times. The budget will “meet the needs of the school district for the coming year at a level that can be supported,” he said.
In response to questions, he said the budget process had made reductions in staff and programs, including the equivalent of 24 full-time teaching and nonteaching positions throughout the system and the elimination of the industrial arts program at the middle school and the consumer science program at the high school. The teachers in those programs are retiring and will not be replaced. Some summer programs will be reduced.
Despite concerns from one resident that eliminating those programs was “shortsighted,” voters approved the article containing those cuts by a wide margin.
There were few questions from the residents of the four towns, and the budget articles were approved handily. In the only written ballot, required by the state, residents voted 64-14 to raise and appropriate $1,513,795 in additional local funds beyond the minimum requirements of the state’s Essential Programs and Services allo-cation.
This portion of the budget had attracted attention from municipal officials earlier this year, who had pointed out that all but one of the cost centers — that for regular instruction — exceeded the EPS allocation. At Tuesday’s meeting, Bucksport Town Councilor Michael Ormsby asked if the school department had done a study of how the RSU compared to other school districts in the amount it raised above EPS.
Board Chairman Paul Bissonnette said simply, “No,” indicating no depth study has been done.
Such a study is planned, according to Boothby, who also noted that 80 percent of the districts in the state exceed the EPS allocation. Part of the reason, is that the EPS formula favors larger school districts and reduces funding for smaller school districts such as the RSU, he said.
“That’s built into the formula itself,” he said.
The reduced funding accounts for about half of the $1.5 million in additional spending, he said.
In other action, voters agreed to establish a capital reserve account to fund minor capital improvement projects at RSU schools. They agreed to set aside $100,000 from surplus at the end of this school year. Any expenditures from the account would require approval from the voters.
Voters also authorized taking $50,000 from surplus to establish a fuel cost stabilization fund that would be used to ease the impact of sudden spikes in the cost of fuel.
The required budget validation vote on the approved budget will be held at the primary election on June 8. Voters also will be asked to approve the formation of the fuel cost stabilization fund.